Friday, November 8, 2013

What do you know? Astronomers discover an asteroid that acts like a comet, active asteroid P/2013 P5 (it's a UFLO)

In August of this year, astronomers monitoring the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii discovered a space object in the asteroid belt which was described as "unusually fuzzing-looking" -- a rather strange description and one that perhaps coins a new word ("fuzzing").**

The use of this strange new word, used in a way that seems to defy normal grammatical and syntactical conventions, may have been appropriate in this case, because the strange new object seems to defy normal assumptions about our solar system.  Less than a month later astronomers using imagery from the Hubble Telescope were astonished to observe the object, which was orbiting with asteroids along the inner edge of the asteroid belt, ejecting as many as six comet-like tails!  The object, which was designated "active asteroid P/2013 P5" or simply "P5" for short (a rather ungainly moniker, which might have been better left as the "UFLO," or "unusually fuzzing-looking object") seemed to combine characteristics of an asteroid and a comet, completely defying conventional models of either comets or asteroids, and causing lead investigator Professor David Jewitt to say that he and his team were "literally dumbfounded." 

The reason this asteroid-shaped object, located in the main asteroid belt but spewing tails that resemble comet tails, causes difficulty for many adherents of conventional models is that those models propose very different mechanisms for the origin of comets and the origin of asteroids.  An object located among the main asteroid belt exhibiting some comet-like properties exposes problems with the conventional model for the origin of both comets and asteroids.

The paper published today (November 07) in Astrophysical Journal Letters by Dr. Jewitt, along with Jessica Agarwal, Harold Weaver, Max Mutchler, and Stephen Larson entitled "The Extraordinary Multi-Tailed Main-Belt Comet P/2013 P5" does a good job of explaining the problems that this UFLO poses for the conventional models.  

The paper explains that P5 has an "asteroid-like orbit and comet-like appearance" (page 2).  The ejection of streams of vaporous matter can be explained for comets, which contain ice as well as mineral particles and which are thought to come from the "Oort cloud," a hypothetical shell of orbiting comets situated extremely far from the sun, but scientists are at a loss to explain how a comet from the Oort cloud could have possibly ended up in an asteroid-like orbit among the other asteroids in the main asteroid belt. 

Similarly, the Kuiper Belt (which is much closer to our sun than the hypothetical Oort cloud) contains ice and other gasses, as well as rocky objects, but again it is difficult to explain how anything from the Kuiper Belt could have joined the asteroid belt in an asteroid-style orbit like the orbit of P5.  In fact, the physics appear to rule out the possibility of either an Oort Cloud object or a Kuiper Belt object ending up following the path around the sun that P5 is following.  In their paper, Professor Jewitt et al. explain the problem:
No known dynamical path connects the main-belt to the Kuiper Belt or Oort cloud comet reservoirs [page 2 of the paper by Jewitt et al.]. [. . .] Neither is it likely that P5 could be a comet captured from the Kuiper Belt or Oort cloud comet reservoirs; numerical simulations show that such capture is effectively impossible in the modern solar system (Fernandez et al. 2002 [page 5 of the paper by Jewitt et al.].
This is a king-sized problem.  If this object, which appears to be behaving like a comet by spewing out long tails of matter, did not and could not have come from the outer fringes of the solar system (or far beyond the outer fringes, in the case of the proposed Oort cloud) where scientists believe that comets originate, then where did it come from?  Are we to suppose that comets can come from the inner solar system?  "Preposterous!" say the supporters of the conventional models.

But if P5 is not a comet (since comets can only come from the Kuiper Belt or even further away), then its comet-like tails must be explained as material that an asteroid or other solar system object might throw off, and the difficulty is in explaining how an asteroid could throw off the comet-like tails that P5 exhibits. 

Comet tails are composed of icy particles that can stretch for tens of millions of miles through space (or even longer).  The problem that P5 poses is that conventional models for the formation of asteroids in the main belt do not admit to the presence of enough water or ice to create comet-like tails.  The paper by Dr. Jewitt et al. explains that:
The orbit of P5 lies near the inner edge of the asteroid belt, in the vicinity of the Flora family of S-type asteroids.  These objects have been associated with the LL chondrites, which themselves reflect metamorphism to temperatures ~860o C to 960o(Keil 2000).  As such, P5 is an unlikely carrier of water ice, and sublimation is unlikely to account for the observed activity.  5.
With water or ice removed as an option for explaining the tails of fuzzing-object P5, the scientists have to come up with another hypothesis.  They suggest that impacts could raise dust clouds, but the problem is that P5 has been observed for some time now and the ejections are continuing.  See the two images from the Hubble Telescope above, which are available here, along with press releases and other discussion from NASA.   

After rejecting these explanations, the paper's authors conclude: "The surviving hypothesis is that P5 is a body showing rotational mass-shedding, presumably from torques imposed by solar radiation" (6). I other words, the sun is causing the asteroid to spin and the spin is causing it to disintegrate, and as it disintegrates the disintegrating particles are streaming out and looking like six comet tails.


How exactly that is taking place, and why it would look the way it does in the images, is not explained, and the paper's authors note that such a "rotational mass-shedding" has not yet been quantitatively modeled, and has some problems associated with it as an explanation (such as, how fast would the particles really be coming out of an asteroid that is spinning in the way that this hypothesis proposes?)

Not surprisingly, if the scientists were to consider the work of Dr. Walt Brown, whose hydroplate theory posits a very different mechanism for the origin of comets, they would find solutions for all of the above problems.  Dr. Brown's theory contains detailed chapters on the "The Origin of Comets" and "The Origins of Asteroids and Meteoroids," and it argues that both originate from the same source and are in fact related!  In other words, the discovery of a bizarre hybrid like P/2013 P5 is not astonishing at all -- on the contrary, it is exactly the sort of thing that the hydroplate theory would have predicted!   

First of all, the hydroplate theory argues that comets do not come from a hypothetical and currently-unobservable "Oort cloud."  The huge problems with the Oort cloud theory are discussed in this previous post entitled "Comet origins and the mysteries of mankind's ancient past," where former Chief of Celestial Mechanics at the US Naval Observatory Dr. Tom Van Flandern is quoted explaining some of the extremely improbable aspects of the Oort cloud theory.

Instead, the hydroplate theory argues that comets -- and asteroids and meteoroids -- are all products of a violent catastrophic event that rocked one of the planets of the inner solar-system, spewing both rock and water (which froze into ice) deep into space.  That planet of the inner solar-system is the one you are sitting on right now as you read this (unless you have an extremely unusual internet connection using a technology the rest of us do not know about yet). 

In the chapter on comets linked above, Dr. Brown explains why this hypothesis for the origins of comets fits the observed evidence, evidence which causes nearly insurmountable problems for all the other current theories, including the conventionally-accepted theories held by most academics today.

Furthermore, in the chapter on asteroids and meteoroids linked above, Dr. Brown explains that the asteroids in our solar system, including those in the main belt where P5 is orbiting, came from the same catastrophic inner solar system event.  He also explains that many large asteroids are not really solid space rocks, but are instead composed of many smaller particles which have clumped together and which are held together by a relatively weak glue of water ice, and which also contain a lot of empty space.  All of this discussion is supported by physics, which Dr. Brown cites.

This explanation by Dr. Brown explains a plethora of evidence surrounding both comets and asteroids, evidence which causes major headaches for proponents of the conventional theories.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Brown's explanation also explains the "problems" posed by P5 cited in the paper published today.

For starters, if comets do not originate in some very faraway Oort cloud, or even from the Kuiper Belt (both points of origin which cannot get a comet into the orbit P5 follows), then one of the biggest problems that P5 poses goes away immediately.  If comets originated from earth (and the evidence suggests that they did, as Dr. Brown's chapter on comets and as numerous previous posts on this subject -- see this post, this post and this post, for instance -- have illustrated), then the idea that a comet-like object could have ended up in the asteroid belt becomes quite possible.

Further, the fact that comets and asteroids are really all related clears up some of the other difficulties cited in the P5 paper published today as well.  As noted above, Dr. Brown believes that many asteroids contain water-ice, especially the larger asteroids which rotate more slowly (smaller asteroids which rotate very rapidly are probably solid chunks of rock, but large and slow-rotating asteroids are probably big aggregates or conglomerates of smaller chunks, held together by a glue of water ice).  

But what about the difficulty cited in the paper of having water ice on an asteroid, which contains chondrites indicating the rock experienced extremely high temperatures in the past?  Does Dr. Brown's theory deny the presence of these chondrites, or that they indicate extremely high heating and even metamorphism in the past?  

Not at all!  

Dr. Brown's theory explains in great detail that, prior to the catastrophic earth event which launched the rocks and water into space, rock within earth's crust was under tremendous pressure.  Some of the astonishing by-products of the forces at work are examined in the chapter entitled "The Origin of Earth's Radioactivity." It is perfectly consistent with the laws of physics to believe that the pressure and heating that created the signatures cited in today's paper took place while those rocks that are now in asteroids were still part of earth's crust.  

When they were violently launched into space, out of the orbit of the earth (but still in orbits around the sun, with many widely varying paths), along with tons of supercritical water from the earth, the water and debris ended up as today's comets and asteroids and meteoroids.  That water is now frozen, but the presence of frozen water alongside rocks that were once heated up to the point of producing chondrites does not cause any problems for advocates of the hydroplate theory.  It only causes problems for the conventional theories, but the conventional theories have all kinds of other problems that Dr. Brown outlines in his book, problems that involve evidence available for examination long before the discovery of P/2013 P5.

The discovery of P5 only serves as yet another dramatic piece of evidence which suggests the fundamental flaws of the conventionally-accepted theories.  

It also serves as yet another dramatic piece of evidence which suggests that Dr. Brown's theory, explaining the observed evidence on our planet and in our solar system through the mechanism of a catastrophic event in earth's past, has tremendous predictive and explanatory power.  The ability to make correct predictions, and to be able to explain new discoveries that were not even known when the theory was first put forward, may well be the most critical acid test for a scientific theory.

Why hasn't Dr. Brown's theory received the recognition it deserves?  Why haven't scientists flocked to examine it more closely?  Why is it not at least given a place as one of the "surviving hypotheses" when scientists come across new evidence which their favored theories have no way of explaining?

The obvious answer is that Dr. Brown's theory involves a global flood, in line with the flood described in the Old Testament.  This alone places his theory "beyond the pale" and ensures that conventional scientists will not touch it.  However, that is ridiculous behavior.  Accepting the possibility of a catastrophic event in our planet's past does not automatically require those who accept that possibility to suddenly adopt a literal understanding of the entire Old Testament (let alone the New Testament), any more than it requires them to suddenly adopt a literal understanding of the sacred traditions of ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, or of the Ackawois people (of the part of South America that is today called Guyana), or the Hopi people, or any number of other people around the globe who have also believed in a flood.

The fact that Dr. Brown's theory sheds tremendous light on the newly-discovered "active asteroid P/2013 P5" should cause astronomers and scientists around the world to take note and look into his arguments more carefully.  

Refusing to even consider it as a possibility is just an example of "fuzzing-thinking." 

** At least, that's the way it was quoted in this article, which contained links to sources, none of which actually contained the phrase "fuzzing-looking."   It may be that this was just a typo, or it may be that someone coined a new (awkward) descriptor to go along with a new (awkward, at least for conventional solar system models) space object.   See screenshot below: